Yesterday the iconic movie legend Burt Reynolds passed away at his home in Florida.
I am not here to recount or recall all his memorable roles or movies.
I won’t take up your time with memories of him that we all remember.
But I do have a story to tell and I am sorry to say I waited too long to tell it.
It was 1975 and I was living in yet another foster home in another state to play and deliver a championship to another high school.
It was September of that year and the season was underway when the coach called me into his office and told me that I was invited to Nashville for the “World Premier” of the Burt Reynolds movie “W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings” as the movie was partially filmed in Nashville and the star of the movie wanted the premier opening there.
EDITORS NOTE: Yes, kids there was actually a time not that long ago when “World Premiers” of movies were held in cities other than Los Angeles and New York City and without any attendance by a Kardashian.
The coach told me that he and his wife would drive me there and drop me off, and that I needed to wear jeans or kaki trousers and a collared shirt along with with my letterman’s jacket.
I was too embarrassed to tell the coach I didn’t own any kaki trousers and I didn’t have a collared shirt, I had one pair of jeans to my name and three t-shirts and my letterman’s jacket was from another town and another state.
I just nodded and told the coach I would be ready on the following Saturday night for he and his wife to pick me up, but I did ask him “Why Me?”
The coach looked up from behind his desk and said that he didn’t really know why, only that a lot of high school athletes had been invited to the “World Premier” of the movie and that since I was the only “champion” they had in the school at the time I got the invitation.
The appointed Saturday came and I had washed my jeans that morning behind the stables where I lived at the time and had them dry in the sun along with the only “really” clean white t-shirt I owned and waited for my ride.
The coach and his wife were wonderful people to me and we talked all the way to Nashville as they had planned on visiting with her sister there then picking me up after the movie and driving me back.
When they pulled up to the big Tennessean Theater in Nashville, it looked like something I had never seen before. There were hundreds, maybe a few thousand people lining the streets on both sides to catch a glimpse of Burt Reynolds.
There were camera’s, news crews, lights flashing, police cars with their blue lights flashing, it was an incredible site to see.
Coach pulled up as close to the theater as he could get, which was a block away and dropped me off and we arranged for me to be at the same spot when the movie was over.
EDITORS NOTE: Sorry kids there were no cell phones at the time….
I was stopped by a Nashville Police officer and I gave him my name and I was pointed towards the crowed lobby of the beautiful old theater that was lit up like Christmas.
That place was packed, with people in tuxedos, suits women in expensive gowns and flashes from cameras were going off constantly and even at my young age I was self conscious and knew that I was severely underdressed for this occasion.
Another person in a suit asked me my name and pointed me towards a group of about twenty five athletes standing in the corner with letterman’s jackets on and before I could make my way through the crowd I heard applause and saw more camera flashes and the crowd parted like the Red Sea and in walked Burt Reynolds with the beautiful Laruen Hutton on his arm followed by Country Music Star Jerry Reed with his wife.
Burt Reynolds had the big smile, and was shaking hands all around as he walked through the crowd and Lauren Hutton and Jerry Reed were doing the same.
As Burt was making his way through the throng of well wishers a man suddenly appeared in front of me and the other athletes standing off to the side and without looking me in the eye he stuck his hand out and said “I am John Jay Hooker and I am running for Governor”
I shook his outstretched hand and said my name is Mike….and that was all I got out of my mouth before he interrupted me still without looking at me as he waved with his other hand across the room, “That’s great Matt..” he said….
“Sir, my name is Mike” and the politician still smiling, not making eye contact with me and waving across the room said “Whatever Mark, enjoy the movie.”
With that John Jay Hooker disappeared into the crowd smiling, shaking hands and stumping for votes.
I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do and I was too shy so to speak to ask anybody when I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned around there was Burt Reynolds with his one hand on my shoulder and the other hand out for a handshake and with a smile he said “I’m Burt Reynolds what’s your name?”
I told him my name and he called me Mike, actually he asked me “Mike, what do you think about all of this?” I told him I had never seen anything like it, and he said “before the movie you can get whatever you want, it’s all on the house”
He asked me about my letterman’s jacket, where I lived, where I was from and he did the very same thing with ever other athlete that I was standing with and then I shook Lauren Hutton’s hand who was there to help promote Burt’s next movie “Gator” that was due out the following year.
I don’t remember what I said to Ms Hutton but I may have made sounds like I was panting and grunting.
The Great Jerry Reed shook my hand and in his deep Alabama accent asked me “How are you doing Hoss?” He asked me about my jacket, what I did and where I lived.
Imagine that, big stars like that just talking to a kid like me, really talking to me.
As the crowd started moving from the lobby to the actual theater I went to the concession stand and got a large Coke and a bucket of popcorn big enough to baptize a baby in and I like so many others there made my way into theater and found my seat.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that movie and it is still one of my favorite movies of all time for a variety of reasons.
When the movie was over I made my way through the crowd and was standing in the corner of the lobby that I and my fellow athletes had occupied before when Burt Reynolds appeared again and asked me “Mike, so what did you think about the movie?”
It’s hard to imagine that not only did he remember my name and ever other athlete there but he cared about my opinion and I want to say this too, he made you feel comfortable.
I told him that I loved it and thanked him for inviting me, even though I wasn’t quite sure “he” invited me and you know what?
Burt Reynolds thanked “me” for taking the time to be there and see the movie.
He did the same to everyone there, thanked them. Thanked them for taking the time.
As Burt talked with the other athletes near me, Jerry Reed was close by and talking with a reporter who was busily taking notes of all that he said and I caught this word “Hurts”.
Not to ease drop, not that I knew what that was at the time, I listened intently to see who had been “hurt” in the movie and it was with that Burt still smiling turned to where Jerry Reed and the reporter were talking and said loudly “Jerry I asked you not to say anything about that please I didn’t do it for you to tell a story about it.”
Burt went back to talking with the other kids in letterman’s jackets as I edged closer to Jerry Reed because I wanted to know who got “hurt”.
Jerry Reed told the reporter this story that I will never forget….
He and Burt had flown into Nashville to start making the movie we had all just seen and there was only one rental Car Company at the airport at the time “Hertz”
EDITORS NOTE: That’s Hertz, not “Hurts” but to me they sounded the same….
Apparently their flight had gotten in early and their “car” was not ready.
Imagine two “Stars” riding together in a rental car, no limousines or pompous pretence.
As the two tried to figure out if they would take a cab to the hotel in town a high school kid that washed cars there told them they could borrow his car until Hertz could deliver their car at the hotel and you know what these two “Stars” did, they borrowed the kid’s car.
Jerry Reed described it as a little old car with a green door and blue hood with plastic in the back window and he made a point to say that they “both” thanked the kid and he did add that the crank handle on the driver’s side window didn’t work.
So Burt Reynolds is driving this old smoking clunker with Jerry Reed in the passenger seat and they are driving through downtown Nashville Tennessee headed for their hotel when Jerry said he noticed a car full of young women trying to get next to them which they eventually did after the young ladies had ran several red lights.
At the red light the women in the car were gawking and asking Burt to roll down the driver’s side window and after some effort Burt got the window down and one of the women asked, yelled whatever “Are you Burt Reynolds?”
Burt smiled and said, “Are you kidding, in this Car?”
With that they drove off laughing all the way to the hotel but Jerry said, I could tell Burt had something on his mind and after they checked into their rooms and after waiting to hear from Burt, Jerry went and knocked on his door.
Jerry said Burt was busy working the hotel phone……
EDITORS NOTE: Again kids, this was before cell phones…
Jerry said he stood there for about twenty more minutes and when Burt got off the phone he was smiling and said “Come on Jerry we are going for a ride.”
I couldn’t move a muscle I was just standing there soaking up every word….
Jerry said he “worked the map” until they finally found the place with Burt driving the old clunker and asking the whole trip “Do you know where we are going?”
The two of them pulled into a driveway of a middle class neighborhood….
They both got out of the smoking clunker of a car and went up the short walk to the front door of the house and Burt knocked ….
A forty something woman answered the door and Burt said smiling….
“Hi I’m Burt Reynolds is your son home?”
Jerry said he thought the woman was going to faint and Burt had to ask her again
“Ma’am is your son at home?”
Jerry said the woman without ever taking her eyes off of Burt at her front door in a barely audible voice stuttered her son’s name.
Jerry said he heard the truck pull up to the front of the house before the boy came to the front door.
Jerry recalled the boy said “Hey Mr. Reynolds is everything ok?”
His mother still in shock and now taking her eyes off of Burt for a moment to endure yet another shock asked her son, “You know Burt Reynolds?”
Burt leaned against opening of the door and said rather matter of fact that “He really appreciated the loan of the car but there was something really wrong with it.”
Jerry said the boy looked up upset and said…..
“I hope it’s not too bad it’s all I can afford and I don’t know if I can fix it again.”
Burt led him outside with his poor mother still in a state of shock and the truck that Jerry mentioned earlier was in the driveway and that flatbed truck was carrying a brand new Pontiac Trans-Am with a big red bow on the hood.
When the boy asked what that was Burt told him that it was “His”.
Jerry said he stammered something to the effect that “he couldn’t afford it.”
Burt just smiled and said “it’s all paid for son, thanks for the loan of your car today we really appreciate it.”
As the car was being unloaded from the flatbed truck the mother now coming to her senses was in the yard with her Kodiak instamatic 110 camera asking “if” she could have a picture with Burt Reynolds.
Jerry said that Burt smiled and said “Sure darling” and then asked Jerry Reed to take the pictures as now neighborhood women were coming out of their homes with cameras in hand to get pictures with them both.
They stayed there for the better part of an hour Jerry said, getting their picture “took” until they rode back to the hotel in the cab of the flatbed truck from the Pontiac dealership.
There is a lot I could say about that night and how wonderfully kind everyone was to me
But I will simply say Burt Reynolds was “Ours” in the South
He was one of “US”
He was “OUR” Marlon Brando, our Charlton Heston.
Men wanted to be like him and women wanted to be with him.
He didn’t take himself seriously or too serious….
He remembered my name and took the time to speak with me, a kid
He knew “who” he was and he never lost himself in the hype or glamour of movies.
He bought a car for a kid that loaned him his and washed cars to get through High School
Burt Reynolds was “OURS”
I said earlier that I waited to long to write this story and I will tell you why.
You see I have always joked that I was Burt Reynolds illegitimate kid because you see that’s what you do when you don’t have a real mother or father you latch onto something that makes you feel good, even if it’s a joke.
Even though I don’t, have his charisma, charm or dashing good looks I never let that stop me from making my own on going joke about my illegitimate father.
So as I write this story I am looking at package on my desk addressed to Hollywood Florida with a signed copy of my book and inside the cover it says:
“To My Illegitimate Father Burt Reynolds Thank you for your kindness many years ago and the lessons you taught a young boy that didn’t think he had any place to go.
I hope this book makes you laugh and reminds you that you are loved.
God Bless You
P.S. Why have I never been invited for Christmas?”
It’s too late to send that package now…..
I wanted to include this story with it too that I took too long to write
Too often we wait too damn long to share those stories, those moments in time that impacted our lives with the persons that made a profound impression on us.
It pains me that I didn’t get the book sent…..
Burt Reynolds was once quoted as saying
“Other people in Hollywood were more successful than I was but nobody had more fun than I did.”
You know what?
We might be related after all.